Shapers are mainly classified as standard, draw-cut, horizontal, universal, vertical, geared, crank, hydraulic, contour and traveling head. The horizontal arrangement is the most common. Vertical shapers are generally fitted with a rotary table to enable curved surfaces to be machined. The vertical shaper is essentially the same thing as a slotter, although technically a distinction can be made if one defines a true vertical shaper as a machine whose slide can be moved from the vertical. A slotter is fixed in the vertical plane.
A shaper operates by moving a hardened cutting tool backwards and forwards across the workpiece. On the return stroke of the ram the tool is lifted clear of the workpiece, reducing the cutting action to one direction only.
The workpiece mounts on a rigid, box-shaped table in front of the machine. The height of the table can be adjusted to suit this workpiece, and the table can traverse sideways underneath the reciprocating tool, which is mounted on the ram. Table motion may be controlled manually, but is usually advanced by an automatic feed mechanism acting on the feedscrew. The ram slides back and forth above the work. At the front end of the ram is a vertical tool slide that may be adjusted to either side of the vertical plane along the stroke axis. This tool-slide holds the clapper box and toolpost, from which the tool can be positioned to cut a straight, flat surface on the top of the workpiece. The tool-slide permits feeding the tool downwards to deepen a cut. This adjustability, coupled with the use of specialized cutters and toolholders, enable the operator to cut internal and external gear tooth profiles, splines, dovetails, and keyways.
The ram is adjustable for stroke and, due to the geometry of the linkage, it moves faster on the return (non-cutting) stroke than on the forward, cutting stroke. This action is via a slotted link or Whitworth Quick Return mechanism.